Death has been postponed

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IF a British futurist is to be believed age related pension problems could get worse. Ian Pearson is sure that death will be a thing of the past by 2050. Well, death has always been a thing of the past so 10 out of 10 for that observation. More seriously, Pearson is one of those cybernetic and artificial intelligence experts involved in a race to cure the last remaining illness we call death.

They believe the body is merely a means of transport for the convenience of the brain. Everything you are is in the brain; the rest will soon be renewable.

All that remains to be done is download your brain’s contents into a computer and upload it into a new body: Case closed even if the casket isn’t. You are in theory immortal but I am not sure it is preferable going by the usual reincarnation route.

I recall the public information poster in a maternity ward. It said the first few minutes of life are the most traumatic. Someone had scrawled underneath: ‘The last few minutes can be pretty traumatic too.’

To achieve their aim the cybernetics squad say there needs to be further advances in hardware and software; better interfaces between human and silicone brains. There are already quizzes in which contestants are invited to spot silicone-filled breasts. One well imagines a similar quiz as to who has the genuine brain and who is using a silicone implant.

Futurists are confident that the means of storing a brain’s content will be here within – er, a lifetime. What is needed are super fast computers with long memory capacity. With a quantum computers breakthrough the time line will be reduced considerably.  Success by 2020 is not being ruled out.

Is it science fiction? Much of what we take for granted today were science fiction a few years ago. An organisation called The Digital Immortality Institute (DII) says there are just three criteria yet to be met: Guaranteed internet access and secure the identity and reliability of the avatars for each user. Finally, make certain the personality, memory, everything that makes up a person as a unique individual has been uploaded into the digital facsimile before real death takes place.

Pearson is not interested in virtual reality; he wants the real thing. So does scientist Anders Sandberg. A member of the transhuman movement he believes downloading and uploading minds is about to happen. Theorist Eliezer Yudkowsky says the technology must be acquired quickly before a malicious group or government gets it.

Don’t get too excited: 80-year old Marvin Minsky, who sounds like Dr. Strangelove, says the masses are clueless when it comes to handling immortality and questions whether they deserve it. He believes the only lives worthy of preservation are those of scientists like him; due to the ongoing nature of their work of course. The rest of us should be satisfied with a normal lifespan.

He dismisses ethical debate saying scientists are above such things. Let Woody Allen have the last word: “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it through not dying.”

 

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